SAPIENS Poetry Project 2020

SAPIENS invites submissions of literary anthropological poems to publish in celebration of National Poetry Month in April 2020, with a leadoff poem featured in March to commemorate World Poetry Day on March 21. A total of five poems will be selected based on the following criteria:

  • We are seeking well-crafted poems that reveal an anthropological lens, bring readers into the sensory details and/or events of a moment you experienced in the field, and/or engage with an anthropological theme, finding, insight, or process (e.g., a poem about the shift to bipedalism in hominins or a poem that elucidates the human impacts of “prevention through deterrence” at the U.S.-Mexico border).
  • In the spirit of our mission at SAPIENS, ensure that any factual material in your poems is accurate (dates, spelling of proper nouns, etc.). Please do not blend interlocutors’ voices to create a composite character or voice within a poem. We do allow the use of pseudonyms if you need to protect a person’s identity. If quotes are used, make sure they are accurate. Please ensure that place names are real, not fictionalized, and confirm that all facts are correct and verifiable.
  • We welcome poems that wrestle with deeper anthropological themes, insights, or emotional material that might not otherwise be expressible in other forms. While poems should be based in nonfiction, give breathing room for the imagination to fill in unknowns between facts; use colorful sensory details and imagery; bring a poetic witnessing to bear on an event, a community, a phenomenon, or a discovery. As Kent Maynard and Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor, both anthropologists and poets, wrote, “Try to be faithful to external historical experience, while reaching beyond or through it to an equally true, artful reality, a sense of aesthetics that enhances literal ‘facts’ rather than diminishes them.”
  • Write for a general audience: Please do not use jargon or refer to insider themes or experiences that only anthropologists will understand.

Curious about how other anthropologists have approached writing anthropological poetry? Check out these examples:

Poetic forms and terms:



Open to anthropologists from any subdiscipline of the field. To align with the guidelines of SAPIENS, we only consider work by those who are currently enrolled in an anthropology degree program, hold a degree (B.A./B.S., M.A./M.S., and/or Ph.D.) in anthropology, and/or have an appointment in an anthropology department.

Style? Any style—from formal work to free verse to experimental forms to spoken word to Native American forms (or other Indigenous styles) to documentary poetry—is welcome.

We will provide a US$100 honorarium to anthro-poets whose work is published in SAPIENS. 

Unpublished work only; no simultaneous submissions to other publications.

Deadline: January 7, 2020

How to submit? Please compile up to three poems into one Word document, PDF, or MP3 and submit that file on Submittable. Maximum length per poem should be two pages in a Word document, single spaced, font size 12. Reviewers will evaluate only blinded copies of your work, so please do not include your name anywhere on your submission. If you feel your poems need context beyond what is in the poems, feel free to add a short description of the field setting or whatever is necessary to orient the reader.